It was impossible not to get excited about what Preston Williams did for the Miami Dolphins in the preseason. So what if there were some drops or wrong routes being run? These games didn’t count. He was in college just a few months earlier.
Flaws become impossible to ignore once real games begin, though, and they cropped up just a bit too often throughout Williams’ first month or so. Drops cost the Dolphins real, actual points in the regular season. Miscommunications could mean blowout losses for the worst team in the NFL.
Six games in, the production is impossible to ignore, though, even after a second-half fumble Sunday effectively doomed Miami to its 31-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Williams isn’t just the Dolphins’ most productive wide receivers — he’s one of the most prolific rookies in the entire league.
“I take pride in it, but it’s nothing without wins,” Williams said Monday in Davie. “Winning is No. 1 on my list.”
The game-changing fumble, which gifted the Bills the ball in the red zone with 7:57 left and a 17-14 lead, was essentially the only blemish on what was otherwise maybe the best day of Williams’ shockingly impressive rookie season. The six catches and 82 receiving yards were both career bests for the wide receiver, who now ranks second among NFL rookies in receptions and sixth in receiving yards.
All the players ranked ahead of him in both categories were selected on the first two days of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Williams, of course, went through three days without hearing his name called. He signed with the Miami in May, about a week after the Draft, and immediately began impressing the organization. He was a top-50 recruit the country coming out of high school, according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings, only he never made the most of his ability with the Tennessee Volunteers. Off-field trouble followed him to the Colorado State Rams, and he went undrafted despite an impressive season in Fort Collins. The Dolphins decided to take a low-risk gamble on his massive talent.
Through six games, the flier has mostly worked out.
“I focus on the improvement I see, the progress I see we’re making as a team,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said. “I see progress, I see improvement. At the end of the day, it’s about wins and losses, but we have a group of guys who are tough.”
The positives have mostly outweighed the negatives for the young receiver, but some of the negatives have been particularly memorable. Sunday’s fumble cost Miami (0-6) a shot at its first victory of the season. He dropped a touchdown in the end zone against the Dallas Cowboys last month while the game was still close and dropped another likely score against the New England Patriots the week before at Hard Rock Stadium.
Instead of being tied for the team lead in touchdown catches, Williams has just one touchdown, which came in garbage time of his debut against the Baltimore Ravens in September.
Although his biggest issue was with ball security Sunday, Williams has cleaned up the drops that plagued him in the first weeks of his career. Simply adjusting to the speed of the NFL — especially coming from the Mountain West Conference, where he was virtually unparalleled as an athlete — has helped him cut out his most apparent early season flaw.
“I’m not known for dropping balls, but the game’s kind of fast,” Williams said. “I was just trying to get chemistry with both quarterbacks at the time, so you can see it’s getting better and everything’s starting to mold.”
On Sunday, a season almost entirely devoid of positives started to reveal some. Williams had a miniature breakthrough. Fellow wide receiver DeVante Parker caught a touchdown for the third game in a row for the first time in his career. Second-year running back Mark Walton seemingly seized the reins as the Dolphins’ starter by leading the team with 14 carries, 66 rushing yards — a 4.7-yard average.
All three are 26 or younger and it’s possible — and, at least in the case of Williams and Walton, maybe even likely — they will be fixtures on offense in 2020 when the yearlong tank is over.
“The game is slowing down to me. It was very fast the first couple games. My mindset was just not trying to mess up, and just trying to be perfect and more consistent,” Williams said. “I’ve been more consistent. I’ve just faced different obstacles every week, just different ones. I’m just working on myself, trying to be a better pro.”